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Obituary: Mitchell Jacobs, founder of Penrose London and Duchamp

The flamboyant founder of men’s accessory brands Penrose London and Duchamp, Mitchell Jacobs, has died aged 65. He suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in south-west France on Monday November 3.

Earlier this year he had suffered a stroke which caused him to step away from Penrose London. The company went into liquidation last week and is being bought by Suffolk-based silk weaver Vanners, which supplied fabric and made ties for Penrose.

Always a snappy dresser, Essex-born Jacobs remembered at the age of nine having a suit made by his tailor grandfather, a Russian-Jewish émigré. Jacobs’ fashionable father, a womenswear rep, took him aged about 12 on shirt-buying trips to Turnbull & Asser on Jermyn Street and whetted what was to be a life-long obsession with individual style. “It was a Damascene moment for me. I was transfixed by the glorious colours and rich textures. It has stayed with me ever since,” he told Drapers’ Eric Musgrave in an 2012 interview published in international menswear magazine The Rake.

The art-loving and jazz-loving Jacobs headed to London at the age of 18 and immersed himself in the menswear revolution of the mid-1960s. His personal epiphany came when he saw a wide-lapelled olive green velvet jacket in the windows of Browns in South Molton Street in 1968, when the boutique was still run by its founder, William Piggott-Brown. “It was romantic, dashing, chic and moderne. It made me begin to think about the psychology of style and how you can transform both physically and mentally by the manner in which you dress,” he explained.

Jacobs learnt all aspects of the menswear business working for several names of the day, such as Tommy Nutter, Stanley Adams and Jeff Kwintner, the co-founder of the influential Village Gate boutique. By 1968, in his early 20s, he was a designer in New York: “An English accent and a sartorial cut of his jib got an enthusiastic young fella a long way back then.”

In later years, Jacob dealt in vintage men’s accessories and a chance purchase of some old cufflinks, followed by a chance meeting with a buyer from Next, got him into the accessories supply business. The success of this venture led to him founding Duchamp in 1988. Its bright and complex tie fabrics - woven by Vanners - and complementary cufflinks were unmistakeable and changed British men’s attitudes to dressing, spawning many copiers.

Jacobs sold the business to Icelandic investors in 2007 and after a two-year sabbatical he returned to the premium accessories sector with Penrose London, which was named after Roland Penrose, a British art critic who co-founded the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

A familiar figure at Pitti Uomo in his bold suits (by Soho bespoke tailor John Pearse) and all the accessory trimmings, Jacobs was a creative force, but disliked the term “designer”, preferring to describe himself as “a style engineer”.

Despite his stroke some months ago, Jacobs’ sudden death has shocked friends. Menswear agent Greg Davis told Drapers: “It’s terrible. I went to a jazz gig with him a couple of weeks ago and he’d never looked better, having lost two stone…”.

Michael Whitby-Grubb, another menswear veteran who was responsible for sales at Penrose until earlier this year, said: “I had known Mitchell for some 25 years as a colleague within the menswear industry before being invited by him to jointly found and launch Penrose London in 2009. Mitchell was a gifted and inspiring individual, always looking at, discovering, finding, and creating something completely different to the norm, previously proven, of course, by the success of Duchamp. Mitchell was one of those rare characters in this business who loathed mediocrity but thrived on true individuality. This sudden loss has come as a huge and personal shock.”

Marc Psarolis, who worked with Jacobs at Duchamp and succeeded him as CEO, added: “Mitchell was a larger-than-life character. I was lucky enough to spend six years with him from 2001 to 2007 building the Duchamp brand. He was so passionate about his ties and cufflinks and worked tirelessly to make each new collection better and better each time. He loved life and we spent some great time travelling the globe. I will miss him very much.”

Jacobs leaves his French wife Rion and grown-up children Sam and Maddy. A private family funeral is due to be held in France on Monday November 10. A memorial celebration of his life may follow in London in due course. In the meantime, his children have set up Just Giving pages for anyone wishing to make a donation in Mitchell Jacobs’ memory to two charities he supported: Kids Company and Médecins Sans Frontières. Go to https://www.justgiving.com/teams/mitchelljacobs

Readers' comments (5)

  • A great talent, a great character and a great loss to us all.
    Long life to his family.

    Simon Berwin

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  • A great loss to us all in Menswear he will be remembered by all who met him.

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  • An innovator and truly inspirational man.
    He fought mediocrity and was a creator.
    Menswear is a worse place without him.
    I will personally deeply miss him.
    My thoughts are with Rion and his family.

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  • Generous with his insight, flamboyant with his style and effervescently charming, Mitchell was both bon viveur and elegant raconteur in equal measure.
    Cannot believe he is no longer with us. The Giubbe Rosse will never be the same.

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  • Mark Stephen Marengo

    Very sad to hear his passing we often showed opposite at the shows in the past,and I remember a lunch we had waiting for the Eurostar where we spoke about design.
    He was very unique in his style,and a great shame he was not able to develop Penrose as I am sure he would have,had he had more time......
    My condolences to his family.

    Mark Marengo

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